[b-hebrew] paleo Hebrew / modern Hebrew

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Wed Oct 24 21:18:21 EDT 2007

On 10/24/07, Entertainment Direct wrote:
> Hello -
> I am wondering when the paleo Hebrew (Old Phoenician) script was
> abandoned for the more squared precursor of modern Hebrew. Was it
> after the Babylonian exile upon the return of the captive Jews to Israel?

First, terminology:
Palaeo-Hebrew is the name of the script used in Qumran to attempt to
represent the script of Old Hebrew.  During this time, both Jews and
Samaritans used the square script -- named the Jewish script -- which
is a developed form of the Aramaic script.  The Old Hebrew script was
used to write certain texts (perhaps because they had special
sancitified status), as well as the name of Y (even in texts in Greek!).

In pre-exilic times, there were three lines of development of the script:
Phoenician, Old Hebrew, and Aramaic.  Aramaic later developed into
the square (Jewish) script.  Old Hebrew was abandoned and Palaeo-
Hebrew is an attempt to recreate it.  Old Hebrew was also used by
Moabites.  There is no connection, however, between script and
language.  For example, the Ammonites used a development of the
Aramaic script.  Linguistically, though, Ammonite is closer to Hebrew
than Moabite or Aramaic.

> I am working on a project translating (for lack of a better word)
> the modern Hebrew biblical text of Genesis into paleo Hebrew
> (minus the extra final letters)  then assigning a musical note to
> each paleo letter.I create a lead sheet from the Genesis verses.
> I then have a conductor compose full orchestration and music
> arrangements for 7 parts, add rhythm and other sounds to the
> biblically composed melody. The result is a aural representation
> of the Word of .YHWH.

The text of the Bible as we have it today, including the Pentateuch,
represents post-exilic spelling.  Linguistically, there are also
typological differences between attested Hebrew in pre-exilic
inscriptions and Biblical Hebrew.  Although the typological
differences are slight, it is problematic to assume that scribes in
post-exilic times took the Pentateuch text and updated it in
spelling only and not linguistically.  Furthermore, comparisons
with Qumran show slight differences in vocalization that
manifest in matres lectionis, both in middle and final positions.
These differences are tied to the vocalization system used
(whether we look at Qumran, at Babylonian vocalization,
at Tiberian vocalization, etc).  Thus, slight differences in
this type of "updating" continued even after the destruction
of the Second Temple in 70 CE.

You cannot, therefore, take a Biblical text, apply some
mechanical scheme to it (such as "remove all final
matres lectionis") and get a pre-exilic text.  We can
compare the differences that we see between the
Biblical text and the Ketef Hinnom amulets, the only
artifact to contain Pentateuchal quotations that are
dated to pre-exilic times:

Deut 7:9 "h)l hgdwl whnwr) $mr hbryt whxsd l)hbyw
wl$mry mcwtyw l)lp dwr"
Ketef Hinnom: "..gd..hbryt w...xsd l)hb..w$mry..d...h(lm"

Num 6:24-26: "ybrkk Y wy$mrk y)r Y pnyw )lyk wyxnk
y&) Y pnyw )lyk wy&m lk $lwm"
Ketef Hinnom 1: ybrk Y...y$mrk...r Y pn...
Ketef Hinnom 2: ybrk Y y$mrk y)r Y pnyw ...yk wy&m lk $...

Thus, the Tiberian Hebrew consonantal spelling is ybrkk
(but pronounced with a double x - [yavɔrɛxxɔ]), but in
Ketef Hinnom it is just ybrk.  TH has a waw conjunction
before y$mrk, but KH does not.  TH has a -l- preposition
before $mry, but KH does not.  This can be viewed as
a linguistic development whereby the preposition was
added based on the earlier "l)hbyw".  Similarly, TH has
l)lp dwr "for a thousand generations" to represent
eternity, but KH has a phrase using the word h(lm,
itself meaning eternity.  Thus, one cannot simply
take the Pentateuchal text and reconstruct the pre-
exilic version by some mechanical process of
removing matres lectionis, and writing it out in
Old Hebrew script, as opposed to square script.
There are additional differences related to linguistic
developments of all kinds that have taken place in
the consonantal text of the Pentateuch since pre-
exilic times.

Yitzhak Sapir

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